Living the News

courtesy of Narrative.ly  Illustration by Josh Simmons

courtesy of Narrative.ly
Illustration by Josh Simmons

Once when I was a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I went to the bank to deposit a check and found myself in the middle of a bank robbery. I was off duty, in plain clothes, and had left my gun in the car.

I hadn’t gone to the bank as a cop intent on arresting bad guys. I was just an unassuming customer—with bad timing. Now I knew what a robbery victim felt. I talk more about this in my book “Way, Way, Up There: My Odyssey from Cotton Picker to Top Cop.”

Veteran journalist Jocelyn Y. Stewart experienced a similar kind of turnaround. Instead of reporting about another senseless act of violence, she found herself speaking at a press conference asking for the public’s help to find the killer of a loved one.

Jocelyn wrote about this experience recently in the online magazine, Narrative.ly. Here’s the beginning of her story, “Grief Has No Deadline.”

* * *

To be a reporter in a city like Los Angeles is to understand the redundancy of crime.

Bullets strike—and then strike again. A young life ends—and then another. Grieving parents wonder how to survive the aftermath, when birthdays and Christmas mornings arrive and their child is gone.

The reporter who covers the crime won’t be present for the aftermath. The reporter will move on to the next story. Such is the reality of big city reporting. For years, that reporter was me. At the Los Angeles Times for nearly two decades and then as a freelance writer, I experienced the “on-to-the-next-story” life.

Then one sunny afternoon, I found myself at the 77th Division of the Los Angeles Police Department for a press conference about a twenty-two-year-old man who’d been fatally shot while driving in South Los Angeles early in the morning of April 21, 2012.

This time the tearful relatives standing before the cameras and the reporters were mine. The victim wasn’t somebody else’s child. He belonged to us. Kendrick LaJuan Blackmon, a.k.a. Lil Bit. My nephew.

At scenes like this, for so long my place had always been among the reporters, asking the questions, gathering facts and taking down quotes before rushing off to make deadline. Now I stood on the other side of the podium watching the journalists scribble notes as we pleaded for the killer to come forward.

This time there would be no moving on to the next story. I wouldn’t write about this for the next day’s paper. I would live it for years to come, because grief has no deadline.

* * *

There is a time of night when a phone call almost always means some kind of trouble, some news that will make your heart sink.

On April 21, 2012, at about two a.m., my house phone rings and awakens me from sleep. The voice on the other end is my niece, Shanae.
“Jo?” she says.
“What’s wrong?”
“They shot Lil Bit!”

In one motion, I am out of bed, dressed, and in my car on the freeway, headed to South Los Angeles. At that hour the freeway transition road is empty except for my car. This part of the freeway is elevated, so high you can see miles and miles of city lights, neon signs and billboards. All of it sits beneath you, seemingly peaceful, even surmountable. This is a good place to talk to God.

Not Lil Bit. Please Lord. Let him live.

To read the full story click here: http://narrative.ly/unsolved-mysteries/grief-has-no-deadline/

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3 thoughts on “Living the News

  1. My family story happened just before I was born, but had lasting effect on how our family view violence and race. My 18 year old uncle decided to enter an establishment and was shot because he was a black man, no other reason. The guy who shot him had no idea that my uncle was the son of a white man, a veteran and educator and who happened to look like his mother, a black woman ,an educator, with a Master degree in Theology. My uncle’s life mattered to our society so much that 6 years later standing at a bank with my Grandfather he saw this man and killer of his son standing at this same bank. He tensed and tightened his grip on my hand and said baby we have to leave now with tears in his eyes. It was years before I actually understood what happened that day, but I saw pain, hurt and unspoken grief in the strongest most reverent man I know today. We were raised to believe we are our Grandparents flower garden, but I’ve learned perception belongs to each individual. No person has the right to judge what God has made. I look very different from my siblings just as my uncle looked different from his. We are all created in God’s image and should be treated as such. This what my family has taught me concerning violence and race and a tough lesson it is to learn.

      • Hi, Charlie

        Your description of the killing of your uncle and the impact on your family is very moving. His killing was senseless. The world will never know what he could have become or what he could’ve contributed to his family and to our society. Thank you for reading and for sharing your story—and his—with us.

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